An Interview With A Member Of The CIPOG-EZ.
Last week, Its Going Down and Radio Zapote carried out a collective interview with a member of the Popular Indigenous Council of Guerrero-Emiliano Zapata (CIPOG-EZ)—an Indigenous organization working from within various communities in the Montaña Baja Region of Guerrero, Mexico, who are struggling for autonomy and self-determination amidst an unbearable climate of capitalist, state, and narco violence.
The interview covers the history and development of the organization, its organizational forms and political goals, its thoughts on political parties and the state, along with its relationship to other social struggles in the state and country. These topics are taken up from within a context of tremendous violence, where communities belonging to CIPOG-EZ live under a continuous narco-paramilitary siege, with the constant threat of arrest, disappearance, or assassination.
Below we publish the audio interview in Spanish, along with an edited text version translated into English. The Spanish text can found at the original source.
Can you tell us a little bit about the history of your organization?
Since 2008, we have been organized as the Popular Indigenous Council of Guerrero – Emiliano Zapata (CIPOG-EZ), although our history of resistance goes back 500 years. The CIPOG-EZ is a house of the people: a political organization which was born to accompany our peoples and our assemblies. We seek to be a space where we can listen to each other and question ourselves. It is the center of analysis, reflection, debate, and comradery among our peoples, with respect for the autonomy of communities, organizations and individuals. As Na Savi, Me ́pháá, Nahua, and Ñamnkué Indigenous peoples of the state of Guerrero, we began to fight for our autonomy and self-determination in 1992, forming the Guerrero Council of 500 Years of Resistance. This organization grew with the emergence of the Zapatista Army of National Liberation (EZLN) and joined the National Indigenous Congress (CNI), the home of all Indigenous peoples of Mexico. We fought for the recognition of Indigenous rights and culture in the constitution.
In the Costa Montaña of the state of Guerrero, our communities have developed new forms of communal governance, building our own institutions. In 1995, the Community Police were created, followed in 1998 with the founding of the Regional Coordinator of Community Authorities (CRAC). These modes of organization and self-governance weren’t invented. They form part of our history and derive from five centuries of Indigenous resistance, and our experiences as Indigenous peoples.
With these community institutions, we showed that in these mountains, between the misery and repression in which we are submerged, we are capable of recovering peace and tranquility. This form of communal government brought to life the Regional Assembly of Communal Authorities and the horizon of constructing a communal territory.
However, with money, projects, governmental positions, and other promises, the bad governments put an end to the Guerrero Council of 500 Years of Resistance. Many leaders were bought off and ended up alienated from the people. Later, by taking advantage of the interests of opportunist groups, a similar attempt was made to destroy the communal system of security and justice (CRAC-PC).
Money also led groups of community police and commissioners to abandon the spirit of service to the people. The people themselves recognize the dedication, sacrifice, and risks of the community police, because not just anyone confronts criminals without pay.
That is why we had to build other forms of communal organization for the good of the community and not for the good of the few. A key example is our communal system of security and justice that has gone through several iterations of construction and critical reflection, from the Community Police, the Regional Coordinator of Community Authorities (CRAC), the Regional Assembly of Community Authorities, to the Regional Coordinator of Community Authorities Founding Pueblos (CRAC-PC-PF).
What are the CIPOG-EZ’s objectives? What do you work for?
The CIPOG-EZ works with simple and humble people, who are dignified and honest. Not to tell them what they must do, but to take their voice into account and think about how we can continue as Indigenous peoples. To build an organizational network that, taking into account the voice of the people, answers questions to act responsibly in the struggle of our peoples and builds proposals to resist the war of extermination waged against native peoples.
We want to strengthen our communal forms of life, relations of respect and mutual aid. Not to manage governmental projects, but to instead ask ourselves: What can we construct with our own efforts? What can we construct with the organizational force that surges from the people, when through discussion, agreements are reached and proposals and organization grow?
The CIPOG-EZ seeks to be a small home, a space of listening and dialogue between the people.
We accompany the communities and their assemblies with the following principles:
- No to making agreements from above to be imposed on those below.
- Yes to constructing agreements to organize ourselves from below.
- No to negotiating deals behind the backs of those who will actually carry them out.
- Yes to taking into account the opinion of everyone who participates.
- No to seeking gifts, positions, or public office.
- Yes to seeing beyond the government windows.
The CIPOG-EZ walks below, with Indigenous peoples, and in the face of the capitalist system that dispossesses, exploits, despises, and represses us. As Indigenous peoples we recover the principles that we inherited from the struggles of our peoples:
- Lead by obeying.
- Propose, don’t impose.
- Build, don’t destroy.
- To work from below, not to seek to rise.
- To convince, not conquer.
- Represent, not supplant.
- To serve others, not serve oneself.
We seek autonomy and self-determination. This in the face of the contempt we have lived through for the past 500 years of Mexican history, and the many distant periods in which we have never been treated as more than those who must contribute our blood and sweat so that a small group can keep their power. We also train organizers who promote cultural awareness in the communal assemblies and the rights of Indigenous people to defend our communities and build a dignified future in our territories. We do not work, nor have any dealings, with political parties.
What led you all to get organized?
In the different regions of the state, we experience distinct problems. In the Montaña Alta region, we face the dispossession of our land by mining companies like Diana, CAMSIM, the British HOCHSCHILD. These mining projects effect our communities’ communally held lands in Páscala de Oro, Iliatengo, Tierra Colorada, San Miguel el Progreso, Tenamazapa, Pueblo Hidalgo, Colombia de Guadalupe, Totomixtlahuaca, Mixtecapa, Acatepec and Malinaltepec.
In the Montaña Baja region of Guerrero, in the 24 communities that make up the CIPOG-EZ, we are experiencing extermination at the hands of narco-paramilitary groups – Los Rojos and now Los Ardillos – who assassinate, kidnap, disappear, torture, and impose a reign of terror in the communities. The most basic human rights are violated every day and have been violated for years, to the extent that boys and girls, men and women, and the elderly, live in constant terror that they will be next to join the long list of the dead written in our blood.
Despite facing different problems, we have seen that the logic by which they dispossess and murder us is the same: alliances between the bad government at the federal, state, and municipal level, national and transnational companies, and groups of organized crime. Therefore, our horizon is the search for autonomy and self-determination, just as the brothers of the EZLN have shown is possible and we, the peoples who make up the CNI and the CIG, have decided to pursue.
What histories nurture and inspire you?
We are nurtured and inspired by the resistance of the peoples of Mexico. The injustice in this country has been historic, but the resistance and rebellion of the oppressed has also been historic. Thus, we can go back to prehispanic times and the resistance to Spanish domination to say that since their arrival in 1521, we, the Indigenous peoples, have resisted. Since the arrival of the Spanish until today, others have tried to exterminate us and impose their vision of the world, dispossess us of our territories and identities. Thus, as Indigenous peoples, we have opposed the extermination and we will continue to do so. Future generations will know they must resist and fight against extermination, so that inspiration is the result of the contempt we experience.
But, beyond resisting, we have learned to build. Comrades, know that we as Indigenous people have our own forms of political, economic, cultural, and social organization, forms we ourselves have created. And just as the bad governments oppress us and impose their vision of the world, Indigenous peoples resist and create to reaffirm our own forms. This is why our Zapatista brothers and sisters are among those that nurture us, as they have followed a path and carried out other experiences and practices which we look towards to strengthen our own processes.
What ethnic groups make up the CIPOG-EZ?
In the Costa Montaña, Costa Chica, Montaña Alta y Montaña Baja, the Na Savi, Me ́pháá, Nahua, Ñamnkué, and Afromexican peoples live together, and together experience the contempt, plunder, exploitation, and repression of capitalists allied with the bad governments and organized criminal groups.
What does the situation faced by the CIPOG-EZ in Guerrero tell us about the relationship between the state and organized crime?
The increase in violence and the systematic attacks coincide with the moment in which the organized crime group, Los Ardillos, appeared with more force in the socio-political structure of the State of Guerrero. Since 2015, this group has maintained political, economic and territorial control of the municipalities of Chilapa de Álvarez and José Joaquin de Herrera and is directly connected to political parties and authorities at the local, state, and federal levels of the government.
What is it like to organize in the context of such brutal violence?
It is very difficult because we have to be alert at all moments. We resolve one issue and already face another one. However, the fact that the communities are the ones resisting, and that they don’t give up and continue resisting, motivates us all to continue resisting even if it doesn’t make it any easier.
Can you share with us what you have endured and how you have organized against it?
The life in our communities has changed due to the psychological terror we have been subjected to for many years. However, since 2015, in addition to the psychological issues, we have faced other things, like the constant killings, persecutions, imprisonments, kidnappings, torture, extermination, forced displacement, and forced disappearance of people.
The CIPOG-EZ belongs to the National Indigenous Congress (CNI) and works with other organizations like the O.C.S.S. and the CRAC-PC-PF. Can you talk about theses connections and how you all work together?
In 2014, dozens of communities of the Na Savi, Me’phaa, and Nahua Indigenous peoples announced the creation of two Houses of Justice of the Regional Coordinator of Community Authorities – Community Police – Founding Pueblos (CRAC-PC-PF). One located in Rincón de Chautla in the municipality of Chilapa de Álvarez, in the central region of Guerrero, and the other in Santa Cruz del Rincón, in the municipality of Malinaltepec, in the mountain region. This happened within the larger context of an organizational division in 2013 driven by the state, which led to an internal split in the CRAC-PC and from which emerged the CRAC-PC-PF.
Both CIPOG-EZ in 2008 and CRAC-PC-PF in 2014, have publicly committed to the path and principles of the National Indigenous Congress (CNI). Although both organizations maintain the communal assemblies as the heart of their decision-making, CRAC-PC-PF represents the sphere of security and justice, while CIPOG-EZ carries out political and community work for the reconstitution and free self-determination of the peoples. In this sense, each organization maintains a particular structure and objectives. And if we have relations with other organizations, it is always with respect to their forms of organization.
What is your opinion of the state, political parties, and MORENA?
It is a reality that there isn’t any difference between the political parties. They all have a common origin, that is, they all want to have power and to impose themselves over the will of the people. Additionally, all of them are aligned with capitalism. As our Zapatista brothers and sisters have already explained, capitalism rides on its four wheels, dispossession, repression, disdain, and exploitation. Thus, when political parties come to power, they reveal an underlying economic power that rules. They destroy mother earth, the mountains, rivers, jungles, forests, seas, and persecute those who resist this destruction. We could name every single crime of the PRI, the PAN, and now MORENA, but the example of our brother Samir Flores who fought against the construction of an ecologically destructive thermoelectric plant will suffice. For defending the earth, and thus life itself, he was murdered in the doorway of his own house. Before becoming president, Andrés Manuel López Obrador promised to stop the construction of the thermoelectric plant. But when he came to power, he proved he was lying and with his words of contempt for the opponents of the megaproject, he condemned our brother Samir Flores.
For those listening to this interview from nearby or from afar, what can we do to support you all, and to show our solidarity with your struggle?
As CIPOG-EZ, we have worked on various projects to strengthen our communities. However, due to state and narco-paramilitary violence, we have had to slow down. One of the most representative projects of CIPOG-EZ is the “House of Knowledges.”
With this project, we seek to have a community space where boys, girls, men and women, grandfathers and grandmothers, of all the different communities can have access to education and training in five principal areas:
- Arts and Crafts
- Production and Internal Economy
- Community Health
- Community Communication
In this sense, the “House of Knowledges” is thought of as a community space, where there is no discrimination, where the lack of basic studies does not impede learning, nor formation, in areas that are essential for community development. It is a space where Indigenous people can have access to another type of education, at the same time that they carry out productive activities which allow them to construct a dignified life.
Those who are listening to this interview, they can get in touch with CIPOG-EZ, and lend a hand to help this project, whether they are comrades who can share knowledge, material resources, or physical labor.
Support for this project is one of the most necessary, but equally, the dissemination of our struggle, making visible our denunciations and the incapacity of the bad governments. These gestures also help us feel like we are not alone.
What is the best way in which the people can keep up to date with your organization and your struggle?
As part of the National Indigenous Congress, our activities and denunciations are posted by our brothers and sisters on their webpage. Thus, you can follow the webpage of the National Indigenous Congress. There you can maintain informed about our struggle. Not only ours, but the same violence that we live, is taking place in all of the towns and communities of the CNI.
What are your thoughts on the visit of Andrés Manuel López Obrador to Chilapa?
For us, Andrés Manuel López Obrador is the continuity of past governments, maintaining the logic of contempt and dispossession against Indigenous people and communities. At the same time, he tries to silence us, to quiet our pain with social programs, just as the PRI and the PAN did before. There is no difference, they only change the name of the social programs but the idea is the same. They simulate that they are doing their work, and like that, maintain their power. At the same time, to justify megaprojects like the Mayan Train, Morelos Integral Project, and the Interoceanic Corridor.
We told AMLO clearly: Do not try to trick us. Our pains and demands are not for your games. We know the social programs that again and again you are presenting in our communities continue to be handouts that the governments want to give us, thinking they can buy and silence us with their programs like “Sembrando Vida,” “60 y mas,” “Jovenes Construyendo el future,” “Credito ganadero a la palabra,” and others.
As Indigenous peoples belonging to the CIPOG-EZ, we do not struggle for political positions, and much less for handouts or “well-being” programs. We struggle for life, because narco-paramilitary groups operate in complicity with the three levels of government. That is what the powerful do not like. They expect us to kiss them on the hand, and to be thankful for the crumbs that they leave in Guerrero and throughout Mexico. But no, we know well what they want. The serious thing about all of this, is that they come and promote their social programs knowing the context of our communities. We have told them how the narco-paramilitary groups operate who have us under siege. We have told them who commands these groups, and they continue like nothing is happening. We do not understand how the government of whatever political party, including the contemporary one, seeks to resolve the country’s problems by handing out crumbs when we have gone years saying it, demanding it, shouting it. When are they really going to listen? Not only that, when will truth and justice for our assassinated, tortured, disappeared, and displaced brothers and sisters be achieved?
We say, does it seem to you that the country is doing well? In Guerrero, like in other states of the country, there are thousands of people who are displaced due to the proliferation of organized crime. What good is a social program if the criminals are lurking around the corner to extort and assassinate us?
What can you tell us about the recent arrest of the compañero Samuel Virgenio on July 13 of this year?
It is important to mention this case. It serves as an example for those listening of what we have lived through for various years. It exemplifies the manner in which the bad state and municipal governments have aligned with criminal groups to demobilize us and to terrorize our communities. Imagine having to leave your neighborhood, or the place where you live, out of fear of being assassinated and arrested. Well, that’s what we live with daily. Many of our compañeros of the organization have arrest orders against them for false accusations and denunciations made by the criminal groups or police. Then, leaving our communities is a risk. Even if the criminal groups don’t kill or disappear us, the police detain us and turn us over to the criminal groups, or they arrest and extort us. It is for this reason that we organize. As an organization, we mobilized quickly on July 13, to pressure the bad government of the state to free our compañero, Samuel Virgenio Germán, pertaining to the community of Rincón de Chautla and the CIPOG-EZ.
To give another example, since 2015, there are active arrest warrants against 67 compañeros and compañeras who were threatened by the criminal group “Los Rojos.” After having been threatened by the criminal group, the government of Guerrero issued arrest warrants against the victims. These warrants continue active, yet they still haven’t been able to arrest us. Today, some solidarity lawyers are supporting us so that we can get rid of these arrest warrants.
Can you talk about the mobilizations and denunciations during the last electoral process: “Niños y niñas armados de Verdad” and the intermittent highway blockades that you all set up?
Prior to the electoral process, we carried out various actions. We want to make clear that it is not elections that motivate us. We have no intention of taking advantage of the electoral context to make our case. We mobilized due to the seriousness of the situation in our communities. One of the actions that we carried out in the face of the lack of response from the Mexican state to the violence in our communities was “Niños y niñas armados de verdad” or “Boys and girls armed with Truth” in Guerrero on April 30, 2021.
CIPOG-EZ does not promote girls and boys using arms to defend our communities, because it clearly violates the rights of children. The name that we put on the activity, makes reference to the truth as a weapon, which boys and girls use to name the root of the violence they are experiencing: the narco-paramilitary group, Los Ardillos. The same truth that the municipal, state, and federal governments have not resolved in spite of the denunciations which have been made on many occasions.
This activity caused our communities to be the target of different civil, religious, state, and federal government organizations, for possible “violations” of the rights of children. For example, the President Andrés Manuel López Obrador said, “Not with children” “Those who live by the gun, die by the gun.” I hope those who are listening to this interview realize that, once again, the government questions our activities, but doesn’t address the causes that lead the communities to carry out this type of activity
Thus, on April 30, 2021, we carried out a massive march. At the front was a contingent of hundreds of boys and girls who shouted “justice”. The majority of these boys and girls are victims of attacks and aggressions carried out against their parents, uncles, and other family members, the constant attacks these children live through on part of the narco-paramilitary group, Los Ardillos.
We also carried out intermittent highway blockades to demand the intervention of the state to end the violence. Beginning on May 28, state authorities approached us. The governor, Héctor Astudillo Flores, promised to appear and carry out working groups on June 9, 2021, together with representatives from each community that makes up CIPOG-EZ. These workshops were to be held in the “Casa de Guerrero” in Chilpancingo.
This was a proposal from the state government, due to the fear that our road blockades would prevent the installation of polling stations for the June 6 election in the communities of the Montaña Baja of Guerrero. However, when the date of the workshops arrived, we were not received. In other words, it is pure lies with the bad government.